Thursday, December 31, 2020

Disturbing The Peace: Unabated Horrors


Disturbing The Peace: UN Peacekeepers and Sexual Abuse

Part 2: Unabated Horrors

By Devon Bowers

See Part 1 here.

Author’s Note: This article and series focuses on sexual abuse and assault, with some graphic descriptions of such acts. Reader discretion is advised.

Nearing the end of the 20th century, there was an increase in United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world. While there were positive efforts to maintain and/or create peaceful environments where non-violent solutions could be pursued in war-torn nations, there was also a dark underbelly to these operations. Most prominently that peacekeepers would regularly abuse primarily women and girls, many of them having already fallen victim to government and rebel forces, they were to be victimized yet again but by the very people who should have provided security and stability. 

Still worse, the United Nations itself would engage in cover ups of the abuse, hanging victims out to dry and suffer in silence. With the turn of the century, one would hope that there would new efforts would be put forth and sought after to hold abusers accountable, yet the horrors would continue unabated.

Ethiopia and Eritrea

In 1998, violence broke out between the neighboring African nations of Ethiopia and Eritrea regarding a border dispute, with the Organization of African Unity mediating a sort of peace between them, yet clashes occurred again in May 2000, ending with the OAU working out a cessation of hostilities and the UN sending in a peacekeeping mission to monitor the ceasefire and the border dispute in July 2000.[1]

The very next year it was reported that a former member of the Italian contingency had been involved in abuse, specifically the Italian military justice system was investigating them “for allegedly having sex with underage girls while serving in the Mission area.”[2] That same year, three Danish soldiers were sent home and charged with having sex with a thirteen year old Eritrean girl. This, coupled with the Italian story, enraged the local populace, with “diaspora Eritreans [accusing] UNMEE of trying to destroy their country by ‘bringing their sick nature with them.’”[3]

Though there were few reported incidents of abuse throughout the entire mission, it reveals that the cancer that is sexual abuse was still strong in peacekeeping operations.


In September 2003, then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan requested that a peacekeeping force be deployed to Liberia to support the transitional government in their attempt to establish order and legitimacy, primarily stemming from the second Liberian civil war, with forces being deployed that month.[4]

The chief of the UN mission, Jacques Paul Klein, a French UN diplomat, emphasized that the zero-tolerance rule for sexual misconduct would be enforced and that anyone caught having sex with minors would be summarily repatriated.[5] Despite these reassurances and even the enforcement of a midnight curfew, abuse still occurred. 

An internal UN letter from 2004, written by a UN Children’s Fund representative to the mission’s second-highest ranking official, stated that “girls as young as 12 years of age are engaged in prostitution, forced into sex acts and sometimes photographed by UN peacekeepers in exchange for $10 or food or other commodities,”[6] noted the failure to address several misconduct reports, and that the U.N. Deputy Secretary General, Louise Frechette, was pressuring leadership to crack down on sexual abuse.[7]

This information of the abuse of young girls was made all the worse when the UK branch of the children-oriented humanitarian organization Save The Children published a 2005 report which found that “girls as young as eight were selling sex for items such as food, beer, clothing, perfume or mobile phones [while others] were reported as having sex with adults in return for good school grades, video screenings or rides in cars”[8] and those bribing and raping these girls were primarily UN peacekeepers and agency staff. There was a stark hypocrisy as these same individuals would promote anti-sexual exploitation and abuse narratives, but would partake in that very exploitation on their off hours.

The girls would actively sell themselves to peacekeepers and aid workers as a way to make money, but there was still risk. Beyond getting sexually transmitted infections, if a girl were to become pregnant, they would quickly be disowned and blamed for their situation, despite her parents enjoying the extra funds that were being produced.[9]

The situation was extremely predatory, with “children [being] viewed as potential sexual conquests.” One example is Oretha, 15, and her 16 year old sister Sarah, who “go to the town's [Foya’s] main highway and beg from foreign aid workers in NGO-branded 4x4s who give them the equivalent of 40 pence [$0.54 USD] in exchange for sex.” If the highways were bare, “they go to the base where the UN peacekeepers are stationed and ask for food, but they say the peacekeepers, too, expect sex in return.”[10]

The allegations of purchasing sex came up again in 2015 when a report from the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services noted that peacekeepers in Liberia were purchasing sex by offering money, jewelry, and cell phones, among a variety of items used to bribe and lure victims.[11] This effectively created a free-for-all of sorts where peacekeepers can abuse women and girls, with little to no concern in being held responsible for their actions.

While testimonies and reports are useful in examining the level of abuse that occurs, statistics help to create an even fuller picture, however even if one looks at the numbers, it is impossible to get an encompassing analysis.

The Numbers Game

In March 2007, the UN reported some positive changes regarding sexual abuse allegations, namely that the number of assaults in Liberia decreased from 45 to 30, with programs such as “a compulsory induction course for all military and civilian staff members to raise awareness about the effects and consequences of sexual exploitation and abuse”[12] and training local NGOs to spread the message about the UN’s program on preventing such abuse being credited for the decline. However, we have to question the numbers as there are serious problems with how they are calculated. There are two main problems: 1) the sole reliance of reporting of cases as a way of gathering data and the larger issues that stem from that and 2) the actual statistical data being so muddled that it is, at the very least, extremely difficult to get any hard numbers on the matter.

Though the UN touts its zero-tolerance policy, it is extremely important to note that the entire policy depends on people reporting abuse. While there may be actions that are an attempt to mitigate the chances of sexual abuse happening, overall, the ability of the UN to enforce its zero-tolerance policy is extremely difficult[13], as can be seen in the form of patrols. Patrols looking to curb and enforce sexual abuse laws still have difficulties as 

situations that may be seen as suspicious with regards to SEA [sexual exploitation and abuse] often end up going unreported and unpunished or, if reported, garnering only a minor punishment. A typical example – and one we witnessed personally – is when a mission staffer is caught with a local person in the car. Because the couple (in this case a male UN employee and female local, in a UN vehicle parked by the side of the road at ten o’clock on a Friday night) was not caught en flagrante and neither admitted any wrongdoing (indeed, the woman slipped out of the car and quickly vanished), the end result was that the employee would only be reported as having an unauthorized personnel in his vehicle.[14]

Rather than deal similar problems through the proper channels, it was dealt with internally, generally resulting only in a peacekeeper losing their driver’s license. Not only does this deprive the victims of justice, but it also helps to skew reported numbers of sexual abuse, making the problem seem less prevalent than it actually is. Just as bad, however, is that even if there are reports from third parties, it’s almost impossible to substantiate the accusations due to the lack of physical evidence or eyewitnesses. Many times, when a victim comes forward, it devolves into a ‘he said, she said’ situation, again making enforcement near impossible.

A secondary problem with relying on reporting as the primary means of enforcing sexual abuse rules is that it assumes that sending up such incidents is a unit priority, that “reporting cases of SEA will trump other priorities – such as loyalty to colleagues or a desire not to get involved in someone else’s private life.”[15] To those ends, it has been found that many peacekeepers have an idea of what is and isn’t ‘legitimate’ sexual abuse and will act on those ideas when deciding whether or not to report.

The situation was looked at in-depth in 2013 when an independent report was conducted which evaluated the sexual abuse prevention efforts in UN missions in Haiti, Liberia, the Congo, and South Sudan, respectively. The team of was composed of General Paban J. Thapa, a retired Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, Dr. Thelma Awori, a retired Assistant Secretary General of UNDP Africa, and Dr. Catherine Lutz, a professor at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.

It was brought to light that there were a number of bureaucratic issues that resulted in a decrease in reports being sent up, such as:

 1) That there were multiple routes for reporting which created problems when attempting to track cases.

2) The lack of information sharing between the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the Conduct and Discipline team, and the military/police.

3) The military police weren’t out in the field, which denied “the Force Commander information about conduct and discipline that could be used to enforce the SEA policy and regulations.”[16]

4) There were poor investigation methods, which creates problems when trying to prosecute a case due to lack of evidence or evidence not meeting a high standard.

5) There was generally “a culture of enforcement avoidance, with managers feeling powerless to enforce anti-SEA rules, a culture of silence around reporting and discussing cases, and a culture of extreme caution with respect to the rights of the accused, and little accorded to the rights of the victim.”[17]

All of the problems reinforce one another, resulting in the victims being thrown away and ignored, while priority is given to abusers whose protection is multi-layered.

The conspiracy of silence even extended to victims, as many peacekeepers would simply pay them off and go about their way while the peacekeepers who would stand up for the protections and rights of victims would be stigmatized by their peers.[18]

Academic Kate Grady conducted a study on UN abuse statistics, which found in part that “the manner in which this data has been collated, presented and explained raises a number of questions as to the reliability of these statistics.”[19] For example, in 2004, statistics were provided on ‘cases,’ however the term itself was never defined and in subsequent UN reports, there was the use of phrases such as ‘allegations’ and ‘cases,’ which still lacked any definition.[20]

In 2007, a sliver of insight was provided regarding these terms, with a footnote explaining that “it should be noted that these numbers do not reflect the number of alleged perpetrators nor victims, as multiple allegations could correspond to one alleged perpetrator” and “conversely, a single allegation may be made in respect of more than one individual.” However, in later years, “the reports explain that ‘each allegation may involve more than one possible victim,’ but do not say whether any allegations cover more than one perpetrator.”[21] The lack of definitive definitions and explanations as to the details of each case or allegation and if they involve one peacekeeper and one victim or multiple peacekeepers with a single or multiple victims results in not only a dearth of understanding regarding sexual abuse, but also an inability to get a full view of the amount of abuse that is occurring.

The situation seems to be that the UN isn’t even attempting to measure the amount of abuse, but is rather “measuring the number of communications it receives about incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse.” Yet that leads to a different problem altogether, as it could mean that the measuring methods of these communications could result in having “incidents involving multiple victims or multiple perpetrators are masked since they are treated as only one allegation.”[22] This situation is made all the worse as the UN doesn’t say if it is able to account for cases that have been doubly reported and adjust accordingly. 

On some level, there was an attempt to remedy this as UN Secretary General, António Guterres, stated that he would seek support in establishing a centralized repository of cases, which would be under the Special Coordinator on Improving the United Nations Response to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, with the goals of “[accelerating] the provision of appropriate aid to victims, [helping] to regularize the initiation of appropriate administrative and criminal investigations, and [providing] system-wide empirical data for more in-depth analysis of events to aid in understanding patterns of misconduct, in order to devise more effective preventive measures.”[23] However, the overall bureaucratic and linguistic problems still majorly contribute to the underreporting of abuse cases.


In 2004, UN peacekeepers were sent to Burundi to aid in a national reconciliation attempt to end the civil war between Hutus and Tutsis.[24]

From the outset, the UN was adamant about preventing sexual abuse, with head of the mission and Canadian diplomat, Carolyn McAskie stating in an interview that the UN was enacting plans to curb the chances of abuse happening, such as having certain areas of a town be considered off limits and the threat of dismissal being used for troops who attempt to solicit prostitutes.[25]

This was followed up by discussions with battalion commanders on the issue and creating some level of accountability by having commanders face increased scrutiny as greater training and accountability was implemented. There was also a policy change which required that members report abuse, even if it was only suspect.[26]

Unfortunately, abuse still took place, with two peacekeepers being found guilty of having sex with prostitutes, one of whom was a minor.[27] Thankfully, that was the only reported case and the UN departed in 2007.

Ivory Coast

UN peacekeepers deployed to the Ivory Coast in 2004 to aid in ending the nation’s civil war and guiding it to have free and fair presidential elections.[28]

In 2007, the UN began to investigate serious accusations of abuse involving Moroccan soldiers having sex with “a large number of underage girls,”[29] which resulted in an entire battalion being confined to their barracks.

More information on the amount of abuse that was going on was brought to light via Save The Children with their 2008 report entitled No One To Turn To: The Under-reporting of Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Aid Workers and Peacekeepers.

Based on field work done in Southern Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire and Haiti, it was found that “children as young as six [were] trading sex with aid workers and peacekeepers in exchange for food, money, soap and, in a very few cases, luxury items such as mobile phones.”[30] There was even testimony from Ivory Coast children who discussed what went on in their respective towns. One boy stated that the peacekeepers “[asked] them for various types of favors,” while others went into more detail:

Sometimes they ask us to find them girls. They especially ask us for girls of our age. Often it will be between eight and ten men who will share two or three girls. When I suggest an older girl, they say that they want a young girl, the same age as us.


For us, we said to ourselves that even if it is bad, we are gaining something from it too. So we continue because we then get the benefits, such as money, new t-shirts, souvenirs, watches and tennis shoes. They also used their mobile phones to film the girls.[31]

The utter lack of morality in these peacekeepers is truly revealed here in that they are literally using children as middle men in order to abuse and denigrate other children, going about and bribing people who are in desperate need of bare necessities and preying upon them. The worst aspect is that local authorities weren’t able to unable to prosecute the perpetrators, in spite of knowing their identities, due to insufficient evidence and lack of cooperation.[32]

The use of bribing underage girls for sex was further confirmed in 2011 when a U.S. Embassy cable was released by Wikileaks. The cable focused on peacekeepers from Benin that were in the town of Toulepleu, where it was found that “parents were encouraging their daughters to sleep with the peacekeepers so they would provide for them.”[33] This only reveals the extent to which the abuse had been normalized, to the point that parents would encourage their children to sleep with UN troops. A total of 16 Beninese peacekeepers were subsequently barred.[34]

Still, some were never punished, such as in 2008, when it was reported that that ten UN peacekeepers gang-raped a 13 year old girl, with her saying that they grabbed her, threw her on the ground, and raped her. ‘Elizabeth’ stated “I was terrified. Then they just left me there bleeding.”[35] Yet no action was taken against the soldiers and worse, it was found that aid workers had been sexually abusing children, both boys and girls. There was also the case of fourteen Moroccan soldiers, where information “including DNA evidence showing that some had fathered children”[36]  was considered inconclusive and so the Moroccan government dropped all charges against the soldiers.

The mission came to a close in 2017.


During February 2004, among the US-motivated and deeply controversial departure of Haitian president[37], Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the UN moved in to clamp down on the fighting that sparked up in multiple cities around the country.[38]

At the start of the operation, it seemed that the zero-tolerance policy was taken seriously, with one high level military commander saying that he was “very concerned about sexual exploitation” with a senior police official adding that its wrongness “[needed] be drummed into people. It has to be reinforced all the time.”[39] Despite these strong assertions of zero tolerance, many Haitians were not convinced that the UN took the issue seriously.

In February 2005, two UN soldiers were suspended after having sex with a prostitute[40], however, this was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the interactions between prostitutes and UN forces. The humanitarian organization Refugees International issued a report where it was stated that “prostitutes haunt the streets every evening and hang out in many of the bars frequented by UN staff,”[41] with one Haitian man saying that such establishments actively fed into the increase in prostitution and that the police were even involved.

Bolstering the argument that the UN presence aided in the proliferation of prostitution, a Haitian women’s group stated: “We’ve seen an increase in prostitution since MINUSTAH came. In 1994, we had a lot of problems with the Multinational Forces. The [peacekeepers] bring their bad habits with them to Haiti, but they do not bring change.”[42]

Interestingly enough, the ‘zero contact’ policy that was enacted in Haiti led to “increased complaints of sexual harassment by UN female personnel, both local and international,”[43] which when added onto the reluctance of victims to come forward, created a de facto wall of silence which restricted the UN’s ability to investigate allegations and get a full understanding of the problem.

The peacekeepers often contributed to larger, ongoing problems in Haiti. Violence, both physical and sexual, already came from criminals and the Haitian National Police. So the UN peacekeepers, primarily the ones from Brazil and Jordan[44], simply added on yet another layer of destruction, pain, and misery for a populace that was already bearing massive political and economic burden. This was made all the worse when those peacekeepers were the ones who would supposedly bring protection and stability but delivered the opposite.

In late 2006, the BBC revealed the amount of sexual abuse that was ongoing in Haiti, with one 11 year old girl reporting sexual abuse by peacekeepers. Another 14 year old girl described her personal horror of having been abducted and raped inside a UN naval base two years prior, where “despite detailed medical and circumstantial evidence, the allegation was dismissed by the UN for lack of evidence”[45] and the attacker was repatriated to their nation of origin. 

There were peacekeepers who would regularly take advantage of the cash-strapped and desperate population for their own depraved ends, with one incident occurring of a “14-year-old girl who told of the peacekeeper who offered her jelly, sweets and a few dollars for sex with her and her friend - a child of just 11 years.”[46] BBC reporter Mike Williams told of one especially horrific story.

Sarah (not her real name) is a fragile looking girl of 16. She says that two years ago, she was raped by a Brazilian soldier serving with the UN mission there.

She stared at the ground while we talked and, almost in a whisper, she explained what happened: "He held me down by the arms and held both my wrists, twisting them back and we struggled together. And then he raped me."

Her mother cried while she recalled that day: "When I found her I didn't recognize my own child," she says. "She had the face of a dead person - I started to cry out, she couldn't tell me what had happened."[47]

Once again, there was insufficient evidence to find the perpetrator guilty of any crimes. This was a regular occurrence unfortunately. 

In some cases, there would be problems due to relatives, such as with ‘Natasha,’ who was raped by a Sri Lankan peacekeeper in 2004, but whose mother forbade her from making a complaint for two years due to the stigma attached to rape.[48] Such actions only helped to muddy the waters with regards to testimony and evidence, effectively aiding the offending party in avoiding justice. Though one of the UN’s biggest miscarriages of justice would happen in 2011.

In September 2011, a video began circulating on the internet which showed a Haitian man being sexually assaulted by a group of Uruguayan peacekeepers. Eventually it was found that the assault had occurred in July, but the video, which showed four UN troops attacking Johnny Jean, only surfaced in the following months.

Two young Haitian men had come across the video while looking at a peacekeeper’s cell phone when they were exchanging music and one of the men recognized Jean and transferred the video to his own personal device, turning the video over to a local journalist soon after. The two men later met with a UN official who immediately denied any allegations, but was then shown the video.[49]

A preliminary investigation done by the UN “found that the men did not sexually abuse the Haitian teen but that they committed misconduct by allowing a civilian into their barrack and could face severe penalties,”[50] however, this is in direct conflict with information provided by medical professionals which proved that Jean “had sustained injuries consistent with having been sexually assaulted,”[51] as well as the video itself being sexual in nature. It should be emphasized, though, that there was evidence of sexual assault not just in the immediate aftermath, but could still be found five weeks after the incident.[52] From the beginning of the situation, not only do we see the immediate denial by UN officials, but then further rejection of something that is crystal clear.

Eventually, the accused soldiers were freed due to the case having stalled[53], the details of which are rather intriguing. Jean was scheduled to testify against his attackers, with a UN spokesperson stating that the soldiers would be free until Jean could be located to provide his testimony, however he had to actually be in Uruguay to testify.[54]  Actions such as these simply reinforce an observation made by the US Institute of Peace, which noted that there was a need to create effective programs to assist victims, especially when they themselves nor the UN were unable to hold abusers accountable.[55]

Another travesty of justice would take place in 2012 when Pakistani peacekeepers were accused of sexually assaulting a 14 year old boy. UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky stated that Pakistani authorities had said that the guilty individuals would be punished, “including through dishonorable discharge from service with loss of benefits and imprisonment, the latter sentence to be served immediately on return to Pakistan.”[56] Unfortunately, the punishment was laughable, as the perpetrators only served a single year in prison.[57] Even worse, was how the UN dealt with it. They agreed to have the soldiers tried in a closed trial at a Pakistani military court and took at face value assurances that there would be financial compensation for the victims. Unsurprisingly, no compensation occurred, the troops were essentially given a slap on the wrist, and Pakistani soldiers still continued going over to Haiti, unabated.

UN Assistant Secretary for Field Support, Anthony Banbury, gave some major insight when he spoke to the New York Times about the case: “People can always say punishment was too light or whatever, but the system worked as it should.”[58] (emphasis added) In doing so, he reveals that the manner in which the system works is that the UN plays dumb and pretends that national militaries will try their soldiers fairly, while making no effort to hold them accountable, and willingly leaves victims out to dry.

Similarly to Liberia and the Ivory Coast, peacekeepers in Haiti were found to have transactional sex with women in exchange for basic needs like cash, food, medication, and more. The UN’s Office of Internal Oversight stated in the aforementioned draft report that there was “significant underreporting” of abuse and noted further problems, most prominently how “a third of alleged sexual abuse involves people younger than 18, [assistance] to victims is ‘severely deficient,”[59] and that investigations regularly took over a year to complete. 

The year 2015 actually saw an increase in sexual abuse cases, with a total of 99 compared to 80 in 2014.[60] A UN report stated that the Secretary General would work within his authority to ensure that abusers would be held responsible “through disciplinary actions or criminal accountability measures when so warranted” and that the Secretary General “was determined to take measures to prevent misconduct.”[61] To those ends, a number of new initiatives were to be launched, including a mandatory e-learning program on sexual abuse, asking that troop contributing nations’ pre-deployment training be up to UN standards, and the development of a complaint reception mechanism to encourage people to come forward.[62]

In the following years, there was also a change to policy as António Guterres, a Portuguese politician and diplomat, took over from Ban Ki-Moon in 2017. The new Secretary General wanted all personnel to have written statements saying that they understood and would abide by the UN’s policy against sexual exploitation and abuse.[63] 

New ideas were being put into place, senior leaders were to issue management letters to “their governing bodies certifying that all allegations have been reported and appropriate action is taken on them,” screening mechanisms would work to ensure that abusers weren’t able to leave one element of the UN only to be hired in another, and anyone involved in field activities would “be required to carry the ‘no excuses’ pocket card that restates our rules and spell out how to report allegations,”[64] among other reforms.

On the topic of aiding victims, little was done. The UN Field Support Chief, Atul Khare, an Indian diplomat, spoke of the creation of a trust fund to get victims the psychological, medical, and legal help they needed, though he did note “It would be funded voluntarily, but also from the salaries withheld from those who face significant allegations which have been substantiated.”[65] This simply hearkens back to the problem that victims are not prioritized in the process of seeking justice. Unfortunately, these changes would not be enough to prevent some of the most egregious abuse that was to occur during the mission.

In 2007, it was uncovered that over 100 Sri Lankan peacekeepers were alleged to have engaged in sexual abuse and were sent packing. More specifically they were accused of transactional sex, with UN spokeswoman Michele Montas adding that “there is the question of some underage girls.” More horrors were to come though, as these allegations didn’t stop other Sri Lankans from coming over to aid in operations. The Associated Press broke the story in 2017, in which they found a child sex ring was ongoing, where young girls were regularly abused.

The Sri Lankan peacekeepers wanted sex from girls and boys as young as 12. “I did not even have breasts,” said a girl, known as V01 — Victim No. 1. She told U.N. investigators that over the next three years, from ages 12 to 15, she had sex with nearly 50 peacekeepers, including a “Commandant” who gave her 75 cents.[67]

It was found that between 2004 and 2007, 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers, at minimum, exploited nine children. Not a single person was imprisoned. 

Interestingly enough, the UN data, which draws information focused on sexual abuse over a 12 year period, was found to be incomplete, varying in the amount of details especially for cases before 2010, and that “hundreds of cases were closed with little or no explanation.”[68] (emphasis added) While the soldiers involved in the sex ring were sent home, they were” still in the Sri Lankan military as of [2016]”[69] and the UN still took soldiers from Sri Lanka and sent them to Haiti in spite of the child sex ring.

A Sri Lankan general, Major General Jagath Dias, was sent in 2013 to investigate the matter, though he may not have been the best person for the job due to the fact that he was most likely a war criminal, who stood “accused of attacking civilians and bombing a church, a hospital and other humanitarian outposts in 2009, during the fierce last months of Sri Lanka’s civil war.”[70] The AP found that “Sri Lanka has never prosecuted a single soldier for sexual assault or sexual misconduct while serving in a peacekeeping mission abroad.”[71] (emphasis added) Undeterred by the accusations against the general and the lack of discipline in the Sri Lankan army, the U.N. still accepted Dias as the investigator and said they were “working with the Sri Lankan government on enhanced screening for prospective peacekeepers,” such as providing a backlog for all soldiers they send over so they could be screened by the UN.

While the mission ended in 2017[72], there were still lingering effects, especially for the children who had been fathered by peacekeepers. Haitians created new terms to describe them, “bébés casques bleus (blue helmet babies) or ‘les enfants abandonnés par la MINUSTAH’ (the children who are abandoned by the MINUSTAH),”[73] something that denotes how they were ‘othered’ in a way and a group distinct from average Haitians.

The peacekeepers created major rifts in Haiti, as they would make lavish promises to girls, “they would say that they are going to pay for their school, allow them to go to the university”[74] but nothing would materialize.

These false promises would lead to frustration later on for women who wound up birthing these peacekeeper’s children, where the mother would be the sole provider. Many of these girls were under the age of 18 at the time of their relationships with UN troops and when they had children with them, which caused a rift in not only their familial relations, as was expounded upon by one woman:

Now, the child is 4 years old and I haven’t ever received support from an NGO, from the Brazilians, from the Haitian state. It’s only me that’s giving to the child to eat because I can’t pay for school for the child… When I was with the Brazilian, I was 14 years old. I went to school at a Christian school. When I became pregnant, my father kicked me out of the house. And now I do work for someone who gives me 25 gourdes [about $0.35 USD] so that me and my child can eat.[75]

While the soldiers left, the scars of abuse echoed and lingered, casting a dark, haunting shadow over the island nation.


In 2005, following the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which formally ended Sudan’s 21 year civil war, the UN dispatched soldiers in order to aid in its implementation, demine areas, and help repatriate refugees.[76]

Within two years, the UN was already sending soldiers back home. January 2007 saw four Bangladeshi soldiers being sent home for alleged sexual abuse.[77] That same month, it was reported that “peacekeeping and civilian staff based in Juba are accused of picking up young children and forcing them to have sex,”[78] with peacekeepers raping and abusing children as young as 12, with it having begun in 2005 and indications emerging within months of international troops initially arriving. Due to the economic disparities, some people who were abused want to continue the situation in order to have at least some money, such as was with one 14 year old boy by the name of Jonas who told of his own abuse.

"A man in a white car drove past and asked me if I wanted to get into the car with him. I saw that the car was a UN car because it was white with the black letters on it. The man had a badge on his clothes. When he stopped the car, we got out, he put a blindfold on me and started to abuse me. It was painful and went on for a long time. When it was over we went back to the place we had been, and he pushed me out of the car and left."

Jonas now returns to the same place regularly in the hope of being picked up and paid something for his services. "I know it is a terrible thing to do but I see the UN cars around late at night by the drinking places and I sit there in the hope of being picked up. If I get 1000 SD ($3) a day then that is a good day."[79]

Not much abuse was reported, but the fact that something like this was going on for two years coupled with there being known cases of under-reporting, only shows that abuse was occurring, but not reported on in the media. The very fact that victims would continue their own abuse to have money highlights the desperation and depravity of the situation. 

While the UN Sudan mission ended in 2011, when South Sudan became its own nation[80], forces remained in Darfur until 2020. Still, another mission was set up immediately in the new nation of South Sudan. The UN still has ongoing missions and in those can be seen an echo of cold and uncaring environment for victims that has been perpetuated for three decades.


1: United Nations Peacekeeping, Ethiopia and Eritrea - UNMEE – Background, 

2: United Nations, UN Mission in Ethiopia, Eritrea to probe misconduct charges against former peacekeeper, (August 27, 2001)

3: Elise Fredrikke Barth, Karen Hostens, Louise Olsson, Inger Skjelsbæk, Gender Aspects of Conflict Interventions: Intended and Unintended Consequences, Peace Research Institute Oslo Center on Gender, Peace, and Security, (March 2004), pg 13

4: The New Humanitarian, Annan asks for 15,000 UN peacekeepers for Liberia, (September 16, 2003)

5: Relief Web, Sexual exploitation in Liberia: Are the conditions ripe for another scandal? (April 20, 2004)

6: The New Humanitarian, UNMIL investigating alleged sexual misconduct by peacekeepers in four incidents, (May 3, 2005)

7: Colum Lynch, “U.N. Faces More Accusations of Sexual Misconduct,” Washington Post, March 13, 2005 (

8: David Fickling, “Aid staff abusing Liberian children, charity says,” The Guardian, May 8, 2006 ( 

9: Ibid

10: Jenny Kleeman, “Liberia’s childhood horror,” The Guardian, October 16, 2009 (

11: James Butty, “UN Peacekeepers in Liberia Accused of Buying Sex,” Voice of America News, June 12, 2015 ( 

12: UN News, UN in Liberia report shows decline in sex abuse allegations; envoy says some progress, (March 9, 2007)

13: Kathleen M. Jennings, Protecting Whom? Approaches to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in UN Peacekeeping Operations, Fafo Research Foundation, (2008), pg 25

14: Ibid, pg 26

15: Ibid, pg 28

16: Thelma Awori, Catherine Lutz, Paban J. Thapa, Final Report: Expert Mission to Evaluate Risks to SEA Prevention Efforts  in MINUSTAH, UNMIL, MONUSCO, and UNMISS, (November 3, 2013), pg 3

17: Ibid 

18: Ibid, pg 7

19: Kate Grady, “Sex, Statistics, Peacekeepers and Power: UN Data on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and the Quest for Legal Reform,” Modern Law Review 79:6 (November 2016), pg 936

20: Ibid

21: Ibid, pg 937

22: Ibid

23: United Nations, General Assembly, Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse: a new approach, A/71/818, February 28, 2017 (, pg 11

24: UN Peacekeeping, The United Nations in Burundi: Peacekeeping Mission Completes its Mandate, (December 31, 2006)

25: Relief Web, IRIN interview with Carolyn McAskie, head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Burundi, (November 5, 2004)

26: Global Policy Forum, UN Reforms Aim to End Sexual Abuse by Peacekeepers, (May 25, 2005)

27: BBC, UN sex abuse sackings in Burundi, (July 19, 2005)

28: Joe Bavier, "U.N. closes Ivory Coast mission, security remains fragile," Reuters, (June 30, 2017)

29: Claudia Parson, “Moroccan UN troops accused of abuse in Ivory Coast,” Reuters, July 20, 2007 (

30: Corinna Csáky, Save The Children UK, No One To Turn To: The Under-reporting of Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Aid Workers and Peacekeepers, (March 2008), pg 5

31: Ibid, pg 6

32: Ibid, pg 16

33: Daily Mail, UN peacekeepers 'traded food for sex with underage girls' in west Africa, (September 2, 2011)

34: Defence Web, United Nations bars 16 peacekeepers from Benin following Ivory Coast sex abuse claims, (September 6, 2011)

35: BBC, Peacekeepers 'abusing children,’ (May 27, 2008)

36: Carla Ferstman, Criminalizing Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by Peacekeepers, United States Institute of Peace, (2013), pg 4

37: Scott Cooper, Annals of American Imperialism: The 1991 Coup in Haiti, Left Voice, (September 29, 2020)

See also: Ansel Herz, Kim Ives, “WikiLeaks Haiti: The Aristide Files,” The Nation, (August 5, 2011)

38: UN Peacekeeping, MINUSTAH Fact Sheet, 

39: Relief Web, Haiti: Sexual exploitation by peacekeepers likely to be a problem, (May 7, 2005)

40: Haiti Democracy Project, U.N. Soldiers Suspended in Prostitution Incident, (February 24, 2005)

41: Sarah Martin, Must Boys Be Boys? Ending Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in U.N. Peacekeeping, Refugees International, (October 2005), pg 5

42: Ibid, pg 6

43: Ibid, pg 7

44: Royce A. Hutson, Athena R. Kolbe, “Human rights abuse and other criminal violations in Port-au-Prince, Haiti: a random survey of households,” The Lancet 368:9538 (2006), pg 872

45: BBC, UN troops face child abuse claims, (November 30, 2006)

46: BBC, Fears Over Haiti Child ‘Abuse,” (November 30, 2006)

47: Ibid

48: Reed Lindsay, “U.N. effort dogged by sex claims / Peacekeepers based in Haiti the latest accused of abuse,” SF Gate, (December 22, 2006)

49: Democracy Now, Video of U.N. Peacekeepers’ Sexual Assault of Haitian Prompts Calls to Focus on Post-Quake Rebuilding, (September 6, 2011)

50: Trenton Daniel, Raul O. Garces, “Haiti: Boy Who Claims Sexual Assault By Uruguay Peacekeepers Supported By Demonstrators,” Huffington Post, September 6, 2011 (

51: Ansel Hertz, Matthew Mosk, Rym Momtaz, “U.N. Peacekeepers Accused of Sexually Assaulting Haitian Teen,” ABC News, September 2, 2011 (

52: Huffington Post, September 6, 2011

53: Ansel Herz, Matthew Mosk, Brian Ross, “Haiti Outrage: UN Soldiers from Sex Assault Video Freed,” ABC News, January 6, 2012 ( 

54: Maha Hilal, Fawwaz Mustafa, Michelle Seyler, Zoe Walden, Tipping The Scales: Is The United Nations Justice System Promoting Accountability in the Peacekeeping Missions or Undermining It? Government Accountability Project, (September 2012)

55: Ibid

56: UN News, Haiti: Three UN peacekeepers repatriated for sexual abuse, (March 13, 2012)

57: Amnesty International, Convictions Against UN Peacekeepers in Haiti Do Not Serve Justice, (March 15, 2012)

58: Jake Johnston, UN Points to MINUSTAH as “Model of Accountability” for Sexual Abuse Cases, Center For Economic and Policy Research, (May 27, 2015)

59: Justin Moyer, “Report: U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti had ‘transactional sex’ with hundreds of poor women,” Washington Post, June 11, 2015 ( 

60: United Nations, General Assembly, Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, A/70/729, February 26, 2016 (, pg 2

61: Ibid, pg 7

62: Ibid, pgs 15-16

63: Somini Sengupta, “U.N. Plans Reforms to Stamp Out Sexual Abuse by Peacekeepers,” New York Times, March 8, 2017 (

64: UN Permanent Missions, SG launches new strategy to fight Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, (March 9, 2017)

65: UN News, ‘We must not allow protectors to become predators’ – UN field support chief, (March 4, 2016)

66: Reuters, Peacekeepers Accused of Abuse in Haiti, (November 2, 2007)

67: Paisley Dodds, “UN child sex ring left victims but no arrests,” Associated Press, April 12, 2017 ( 

68: Ibid

69: Ibid

70: Katy Daigle, Paisley Dodds, “UN Peacekeepers: How a Haiti child sex ring was whitewashed,” Associated Press, May 26, 2017 ( 

71: Ibid

72: Somini Sengupta, “U.N. Votes Unanimously to End Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti,” New York Times, April 13, 2017 ( 

73: Susan Bartels, Sabine Lee, “They Put a Few Coins in Your Hand to Drop a Baby in You: A Study of Peacekeeper-fathered Children in Haiti,” International Peacekeeping 27:2 (December 2019), pg 182

74: Ibid, pg 190

75: Ibid, pg 192

76: United Nations, Security Council, Security Council Establishes UN Mission in Sudan for Initial Period of Six Months Unanimously Adopting Resolution 1590, SC/8343, March 24, 2005 ( 

77: ReliefWeb, Sudan: Four peacekeepers accused of sex abuse already repatriated - UN mission in Sudan, (January 4, 2007)

78: Kate Holt, Sarah Hughes, “UN staff accused of raping children in Sudan,” The Telegraph, January 4, 2007 ( 

79: Ibid

80: UN Peacekeeping, UNMIS: United Nations Mission in Sudan, 

81: Michelle Nichols, “U.N., African Union peacekeeping mission in Sudan's Darfur to end Dec. 31,” Reuters, December 23, 2020 ( 

Friday, July 31, 2020

Disturbing the Peace: UN Peacekeepers and Sexual Abuse

Disturbing the Peace: UN Peacekeepers and Sexual Abuse

Part 1: Encouragement and Cover-ups

By Devon Bowers

Author’s Note: This article and series focuses on sexual abuse and assault, with some graphic descriptions of such acts. Reader discretion is advised.

The United Nations is an organization in which the main goal is to “maintain international peace and security” and “to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace”[1] as a means to those ends. However, what has cropped up time and again, most recently with a 2019 New York Times article[2] focusing on UN peacekeepers in Haiti, is sexual abuse. It’s something that has not just plagued the organization for decades, but has utterly shattered, destroyed the lives of poor women around the world where they lay forgotten, often not seeing justice meted out to the ones who harmed them.

This problem, along with analyzing past and present plans to fight against this scourge, should be examined along with possible solutions. The purpose is not to ‘bash the UN’ in particular, but rather to study the systemic problems within UN peacekeeping and how it can be fixed or at least put on such a path.


In 1991, the UN formed the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) with the goal of “[taking] control of [Cambodia’ government] and [setting] up and run national elections” and to “help bring about a ceasefire between the various warring factions, disarm their forces and repatriate thousands of refugees languishing in camps on the Thai border.”[3] The mission seemed simple and yet problems occurred.

During this time period, there was a large resurgence of prostitution in Cambodia that was fueled by the economy but also the appearance of UN peacekeepers, which greatly increased the numbers from 10,000 in 1990 to 20,000 in 1993 when the UN exited the country.[4]

There were also allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers. Raoul M. Jennar, then-director of the European Far Eastern Research Center in Belgium, reported that “in the Preah Vihear hospital, there was for a time a majority of injured people who were young kids, the victims of sexual abuse by UN soldiers.” The situation was never handled, though women did come forth with rape and sexual abuse allegations, they were often days or weeks after the fact and so fact-finding and gathering evidence was a struggle.[5]

Besides the time lapse, such activity was openly supported by the chief of UNTAC, Yasushi Akashi, who argued that the peacekeepers “have a right to drink, enjoy themselves, and chase ‘young, beautiful beings of the opposite sex.’” This was in direct opposition to over 100 Cambodians and Westerners who alleged that sexual harassment of women occurred with disturbing frequency in any and all settings.[6]

It was this lax, uncaring, and cold attitude towards prostitution and sexual abuse that would set the tone for the UN’s peacekeeping missions.


In 1992, the United Nations established a peacekeeping force as to “provide security for the flows of humanitarian aid that were flowing into Bosnia from the international community.”[7] Approximately 40,000 UN personnel from a variety of nations were sent to aid in this goal.

Again, sexual abuse reared its ugly head. The Washington Post reported in 1993 that some UN peacekeepers, in visiting a Serb-run brothel, “took sexual advantage of Muslim and Croat women forced into prostitution, according to Muslim witnesses and the local Serb commander.” [8] The spokesman for UN forces in Sarajevo, LTC Bill Aikman, argued that such talk was nothing but “disinformation,” further stating that he didn’t “think U.N. troops could have done that.”

However, this was in direct conflict with eyewitnesses who, when being interviewed by Newsday, stated that in the summer and fall of 1992, they say on numerous occasions “saw young Muslim or Croat women being forced into U.N. armored personnel carriers or civilian cars that followed the U.N. vehicles to an unknown destination.”[9] Apparently the situation was never formally investigated by the UN, with an informal inquiry being dismissed “because ‘there was no grounds for pursuing it.”[10] Such logic is rather strange, deciding that there should be no further investigation because there isn’t any ‘real basis’ to do so, despite there not having been any formal inquiries into the matter.

Some years later, the US House of Representatives launched a formal investigation into the entire situation of prostitution and sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers and the full extent of the corruption of the UN was revealed.

The UN’s International Police Task Force was regularly involved at such aforementioned brothels. A raid of three nightclubs was done in November 2000, which found a total of six IPTF monitors in the clubs and it was revealed, according to verbatim statements from five of the women rescued from these brothels that IPTF monitors had been among the clients of these captured women.[11] When discussing the matter, UN officials contradicted themselves by denying allegations that their forces were involved in sex trafficking but “admitted that members of the force were found to have been involved in the use of young girls' services and that sometimes the children were unwilling participants.”[12]

The situation worsened due the fact that there was an active cover-up by the UN of such activities by the IPTF.

David Lamb, a human rights investigator for the UN, tore back of the curtain on the UN’s operations in Bosnia, directly linking it to sexual abuse. He even went so far as to say that:

U.N. peacekeepers' participation in the sex slave trade in Bosnia is a significant, widespread problem, resulting from a combination of factors associated with the U.N. peacekeeping operation and conditions in general in the Balkans. More precisely, the sex slave trade in Bosnia largely exists because of the U.N. peacekeeping operation. Without the peacekeeping presence, there would have been little or no forced prostitution in Bosnia. [13](emphasis added)

The Bosnian prostitution industry was organized in such a manner that there was no difference between victims of sex trafficking or women who had been forced into prostitution, creating a situation where anyone who engaged with prostitutes aided the sex slave trade.

The United Nations, on an organizational level, was completely complicit in the sex slave trade, with Lamb noting that he and others “experienced an astonishing cover-up attempt that seemed to extend to the highest levels of the U.N. headquarters.” Investigators would not only be rebuffed by those they were investigating, but the UN would launch “formal investigations against the investigators while giving no support to the original investigation, a scenario which was not new to the U.N. Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”[14] (emphasis added) So rather than punish the people who were committing crimes, the UN found it easier to harass and intimidate the investigators.

Lamb’s testimony bolstered previous claims. In December 2001, it was reported that the UN “quashed an investigation earlier this year into whether U.N. police were directly involved in the enslavement of Eastern European women in Bosnian brothels, according to U.N. officials and internal documents.”[15] During this time, Lamb noted that “his preliminary inquiry found more than enough evidence to justify a full-scale criminal investigation,” however it was killed by higher-ups. The UN even argued that there wasn’t enough evidence to point to systemic police involvement, in spite of the previous November 2000 raid.

Such activities weren’t just occurring on Bosnia, but also in neighboring Kosovo. Amnesty International reported within months of UN soldiers arriving in 1999 to aid in the aftermath of the Bosnia-Kosovo war, brothels sprung up and Kosovo “soon became a major destination country for women trafficked into forced prostitution.”[16] The situation persisted over a decade later, with UN forces being blamed for the growth of the sex slave industry in which many under-age girls were viciously tortured, raped, and abused.[17]

The biggest hurdle towards obtaining justice for the women and children who had been abused was that issue of legal immunity. Foreigners that were part of the UN mission, whether as a military/police force or a civilians, had near-absolute legal immunity. Specifically, Article 6 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the U.N.” provides immunity from personal arrest or detention and from seizure of personal baggage, and in respect to words spoken or written and acts done by them in the course of the performance of their mission, immunity from legal process of every kind.”[18] Thus, the perpetrators of so much horror were never able to be brought to justice.

This only compounded the situation for the victims as not only was there a cover up by the UN, but the legal immunity created a situation in which they would never get to take their abusers to court.


Due to an ongoing civil war, which displaced over six million Mozambicans, the UN was called in an attempt to create a situation where both sides, the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique as the legitimate government and the rebels known as the Mozambican National Resistance, could come to talks.[19]

Similar to Cambodia and Bosnia, the very presence of the peacekeepers was argued to have led to an increase in prostitution and while there were investigations which resulted in some soldiers being expelled from the country, not a single one of them was actually prosecuted.[20]

These arguments were later confirmed when then-UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali had a formal inquiry conducted into peacekeepers involvement in child prostitution which found that “after the signing of the peace treaty in 1992, soldiers of the United Nations operation in Mozambique recruited girls aged 12 to 18 years into prostitution”[21] as well as the linkage between the arrival of peacekeepers and growth in child prostitution.

The year UN forces left, 1994, it came out that Italian soldiers were engaging in sexual misconduct with child prostitutes, as young as twelve to fourteen years old.[22] This incident was simply the one which was put on blast. International NGO Save The Children conducted an investigation into the matter of Italian soldiers being involved in sexual abuse.

The report explained that suspicions were raised and questions asked when the Italian soldiers engaged in commercial sex, but the matter became even more serious “when the soldiers started to make a clear request for sex with minors and recruited street children for all kind of services: domestic work (at a marginal fee), shopping, procuring illegal goods for trade and as mediators (pimps) for commercial sex,”[23] with the situation evolving to the point where the Italians had one of their liaison officers act as a mediator between the soldiers and the pimps/girls.

It goes on to note the disposition of soldiers, prices paid, and punishments for speaking out, which should be quoted at some length.

Most girls in the trade were aged between 13 and 18 years. Private conversations with the soldiers indicated that this was because of `more fun and excitement' and due to the fear of AIDS. Rates for sex differed. Generally, the price was 1.00 US Dollar for sex with a condom and $ 1.10 without. Some soldiers started a liaison with girls, and arranged a flat, room or other venue for them for regular encounters. […] The military doctor of the Italian Contingent Albatroz who served in Chimoio from October 1993 till early 1994, got reprimanded by the (Italian) Regional ONUMOZ Commander Mazzaroli when he reported in writing on the developments. In fact, the doctor was to serve till May 1994 in Chimoio and it is believed that he was repatriated to Italy at an earlier stage due to his critical attitude.[24] (emphasis added)

By late 1993, the Italians became so comfortable and lax that the local staff of NGO Redd Barna, a youth-oriented aid organization based out of the UK, noticed them having sex with minors in uniform, in and on UN vehicles in the city of Chimoio, with houses even being rented for parties and sex.[25]

In response to this, on September 24, 1993 the head of the Mozambique branch of Redd Barna contacted the head of the main organization to discuss the situation. After visiting Chimoio to get first-hand knowledge of the activities of Italian soldiers, the Secretary-General of Redd Barna joined forces with elements of the International Save the Children Alliance resulting in, most importantly, a letter being written to head of UN forces in Mozambique regarding the situation.

This letter was released by the Children Alliance in December 1993, which the very next month, January 1994, was quoted in an independent Mozambique newspaper, specifically that the letter had been faxed from a high official in the headquarters UN Mozambique to the newspaper. The anonymous official even told Redd Barna that this was done because senior UN staff were “making all possible attempts” to hide and cover up the incidents.

This article was subsequently picked up by various outlets including Associated Press, CNN, NBC, and Reuters. In the immediate aftermath, Italian soldiers were confined to their respective bases. On January 26, 1994, the UN Mozambique contingency issued a statement in which they said, in part, that because “no concrete evidence or information was supplied by the initiators of this accusation, it has not been possible to complete the investigation.”[26]

It should be noted here that the language used is far from neutral, by referring to Redd Barna as “initiators of this accusation” it creates a tone where the NGO is seen as spreading rumors and hearsay. It also leads to the question of how they can’t complete an investigation unless concrete evidence has been supplied. One would think that their investigators, given the serious nature of the situation, would actively be looking for such evidence.

An investigative commission was formed by UN Mozambique and actively utilized Redd Barna to aid in its investigation. This, coupled with them having been the main source, along with the Save the Children Alliance, of the situation going public, painted a target on the organization’s back.  This resulted in Italian soldiers intimidating Redd Barna workers, threatening phone calls, telephone lines and the radio network being tapped when transferring fax messages, and feeding disinformation to journalists.

There was a reveal of a civilian-military divide in that on the week of February 18, 1994, the departing UN commander, Lélio Gonçalves, gave interviews where  he actively denied that UN peacekeepers were engaging in “sexual abuse of minors and sneered about [the International Save The Children Alliance’s] and Redd Barna's concern.” It should be noted that such statements were made “while his superior, [the special representative of the UN Secretary-General, Mr A.Ajello], had already confirmed the involvement of [UN] personnel.”[27] In addition, more and more UN staff approached the organization to provide information, yet were often despised and harassed by colleagues and superiors.

Still, after all of that, nothing was done. The actors just moved deeper into the darkness. After the publication of the investigative report, the Italian soldiers simply continued to engage in their sick practices in more hidden and remote locations and senior officers would intimate girls, forcing them to sign statements saying that the Italians weren’t engaging in any wrongdoing.[28]

Somalia and Haiti

The UN mission in Somalia, only lasting from 1992 to 1995, revealed that even when soldiers were caught in the wrong, their respective nation’s militaries wouldn’t mete out full justice.

Belgian peacekeepers accused of torturing Somali children, Italians, of raping Somali women. The Italian situation was so bad that two generals resigned as evidence of torture mounted and a day after photo evidence of an Italian soldier raping a Somali woman were published.[29]

In 1993, a Belgian paratrooper “allegedly procured a teenage Somali girl as a birthday present to a paratrooper. She was reportedly forced to perform a strip show at a birthday party and to have sexual relations with two Belgian paratroopers.”[30] A military court in 1998 sentenced that paratrooper to one year imprisonment (six months were suspended), a fine, and discharged them from the army. Meanwhile, even though the Italian government conducted a commission which “found credible evidence of a number of instances of gang-rape, sexual assault, and theft with violence,”[31] nothing was done to actually punish those troops.

In Haiti, months after international forces arrived in 1994, a number of women’s organizations petitioned the Justice Ministry to investigate the foreign soldiers as it was public information that “several cases of abuse of women and girls by soldiers in several towns throughout the country” had taken place. A former UN staff member even confided that observers had told their superiors in 1995 in Port-au-Prince of “allegations of sexual abuse committed by French and [Caribbean] UN ‘peacekeepers,’ only to be promptly ordered to desist from exploring the claims any further.”[32]

So on one instance we see just what happens when military personnel are subjected to their justice system, in which a slap on the wrist of sorts occurs and on the other we see still the UN covering up and stonewalling investigations into abuse.

East Timor

In 1999, international forces were deployed to East Timor to oversee its transition to becoming a fully independent country and to deal with the Indonesian intervention which consisted of backing guerrilla groups.[33]

Three years into the mission, it was reported at least two soldiers from Jordan had been accused of sexually assaulting an unknown number of boys. When asked if any investigations regarding these allegations had been conducted, the senior UN military observer, LTC Paul Roney, stated that he was unable to answer the question.[34]

The Jordanian peacekeepers were a major problem as “[interviews] by UN investigators [made claims of] Jordanian involvement in several alleged rapes of boys and women.”[35] This was known by the UN administration in East Timor itself, with the administrator Sergio Vieira de Mello, doing his best to keep the matter quiet.

An incident paralleling Bosnia took place in 2003. A UN police force raided an illegal brothel and found 23 Thai women who had been trafficked into the country, some even being underage, along with six UN police officers. The UN made the incredibly weak argument that the officers were just getting massages and didn’t know it was an illegal brothel.

Specifically, the UN’s Acting Deputy Operations Commissioner, Alan King, stated that the officers came “from a country where massage is quite a legitimate business and in many cases here in East Timor massage parlors exist and they are quite legitimate” and there was no indication “that they went there for anything other than a legitimate purpose.”[36]

Just like so many of the other cases, not a single person faced justice. Daily Australian outlet The Age reported in 2006 that “Sukehiro Hasegawa, the top UN official in East Timor, has acknowledged for the first time that the UN system failed to bring anyone to justice for crimes that included sex abuse of children and bestiality.”[37] Hasegawa announced that a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards sexual abuse by any and all UN forces would be put into motion immediately.

The abuse of women in East Timor had long lasting impacts. There were approximately 20 cases of children who had been fathered by peacekeepers, however, no national record exists to get a better grasp of the situation.[38] Soldiers had made promises to marry the women, but would simply return to their home countries. The women and children were left behind to deal with being shunned by their community.

In 2003, the UN put out a bulletin putting the entire entity on notice that sexual abuse would not be tolerated, including that exchanging money for sexual favors “or other forms of humiliating, degrading or exploitative behavior, is prohibited.”[39] It established that the head of the mission in question would be responsible for fostering an environment in which such activities would be discouraged and prevented, ensuring each staff member would receive a copy of the bulletin to ensure that there is no excuse of someone not knowing the rules, and that a system would be established to report on sexual abuse cases. Still, this would have no serious effect on sexual abuse.

Sierra Leone

To deal with rebel elements in Sierra Leone and aid in the creation of a unity government comprised of the rebels and legitimate government, forces were sent to the country in 1999.[40]

The entire situation amounted to a horror show for the women of Sierra Leone. The Telegraph made known a report from Human Rights Watch.


But it found evidence of sexual atrocities being committed by troops from the regional intervention force, Ecomog, and the UN peacekeeping mission.


Women were used by all sides as chattels, kidnapped from their homes often in rural areas and forced to act as sex slaves for the troops as well as domestic maids responsible for cooking and household chores.


"To date there has been no accountability for the thousands of crimes of sexual violence or other appalling human rights abuses committed during the war in Sierra Leone," the report said.[41]

There was no reprieve for women here, the very people that were supposed to protected them were also the ones raping and abusing them

That same report revealed a number of crimes done by international forces. In April 2002, “witnesses saw a woman apparently being raped by two Ukrainian peacekeepers near the eastern town of Joru. There was no formal investigation into the matter.” (emphasis added) [42] In June, an officer from Bangladesh was accused of sexually assaulting a 14 year old boy, but a formal investigation found results to be inconclusive and the officer was soon sent back to his home country.

During March 2002, UN spokesperson Margaret A. Novicki, stated that the mission in Sierra Leone was going about conducting an ongoing training program for military personnel which focused on women’s rights and the zero tolerance policy for sexual exploitation and abuse and that the military command was visiting sector and contingent commanders to emphasize the need to police soldiers’ conduct.[43] The previous month, however, the a probe from the UN Human Right Council and the UK arm of the organization Save The Children revealed just how much the conduct of peacekeeping forces had deteriorated.

The joint investigation found a major disconnect between what was being said and what was going on the ground. A UN officer stated that “Every soldier, officer has been read and shown the code of conduct; no one can plead ignorance.”[44] Thus, while knowing the code of conduct, peacekeepers still engaged in abuse by exchanging money and food with children for sexual services, paying between $5 and $300 USD. Witnesses “spoke of teenage girls being asked to strip naked, bath and pose in certain positions while the peacekeepers took pictures, watched and laughed. Some are alleged to have had sex with the girls without using condoms.”[45]

There were several incidents of peacekeepers going to extremes in that they would meet with the child’s parents, feigning good intentions, but would leave abruptly, give the parents money to take care of the girl, or even shower the girl with gifts. The victims, on all levels, were the girls. While they were being abused by the peacekeepers, the community would respond by parading and publically shaming the girls in town.[46]

There was a separate inquiry conducted by the UN in late 2002 where it came to light that “there was no encouragement for staff or other persons to report ethical issues to management, nor for that matter is there a particular office or person with whom this type of problem can be discussed,”[47] but there were slight improvements such as the formation of a Personal Conduct Committee to examine cases of misconduct for UN workers, both military and civilian. Yet, it was known that sexual abuse cases were underreported. The Office of Internal Oversight Services found a single allegation of such abuse, but with over 17,000 soldiers, it shows that there are serious deficiencies with the reporting system rather than a lack of cases.[48]

A Human Rights Watch report documented several cases of rape by peacekeeping troops.

A Sergeant Ballah, from Guinea, was alleged to have engaged in the rape of a twelve year old girl according to the Sierra Leone police. The victim was raped in March 2001 “when she asked for Sgt. Ballah’s assistance in securing a ride to Freetown at the checkpoint that he was manning”[49] and even though Ballah went to court, he was simply sent back to Guinea. In a separate case, a Bangladeshi peacekeeper allegedly raped a fourteen year old boy (the rape had ben medically confirmed) and the police began to conduct an investigation, “until the UNAMSIL provost marshal took it over. The provost marshal concluded that there was no conclusive evidence to link the crime to the perpetrator.”[50] The inquiry was conducted haphazardly, with members of the Bangladeshi contingent speaking with the victim, despite the fact that they shouldn’t have been able to, nor did the UN mission even issue the victim or his family an apology, much less provide compensation or note the outcome of the investigation.

This lines up with the summary that there was “reluctance on the part of UNAMSIL to investigate and take disciplinary measures against the perpetrators.”[51] Despite setting up a code of conduct and reinforcing a zero tolerance policy, we see that such acts were half-hearted measures given incorrect investigation methods and flat out interference in cases.

The UN even noted that charges against its own personnel and humanitarian workers working at UN camps, such as forcing women and children to provide sexual favors for food, medicine, and relief supplies, were investigated by the Office of Internal Oversight Services but dropped on the grounds that there wasn’t enough evidence.[52] It seems that the OIOS acts as many internal investigatory groups: covering up incidents and protecting criminals.


Peacekeepers were sent to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to aid in the implementation of a ceasefire between several warring factions starting in 1999.[53]

In mid-2002, Human Rights Watch published the report The War within the War: Sexual Violence against Women and Girls in Eastern Congo, where several acts of sexual assault were recorded. One such incident occurred in December 2001, when a Congolese woman dropped off an eleven year old girl to a Moroccan soldier, who proceeded to sexually assault the girl, but was kept at his post.[54] Though the zero tolerance policy had been in effect and there was an increase in gender awareness training and even a gender advisor, the mission still lacked any training strictly revolving around the sexual violence.

During July 2004 the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services began to investigate a number of accusations, ranging from a child prostitution ring being ran out of a UN airport to Nepalese soldiers raping minors and even allegations of a Tunisian officer soliciting sex from minors.[55] Most of the allegations revolved around the town of Bunia.

The UN seems to have ignored the situation until it reached a critical mass as The Independent obtained documents which showed that in August 2003, the child-protection office sent a memo to the UN’s Congo headquarters “detailing their fears about the allegations of sexual exploitation by [UN] forces. No action was taken.” Children were put at risk as despite allegations of Moroccan troops engaging in “child pornography, organized sex shows and the rape of babies,” they were still sent to Bunia where in 2004 it was found that “19 out of 50 cases of sexual violence against minors in Bunia were carried out by [Moroccan] troops.”[56] By transferring the Moroccan’s despite such extreme allegations, it could be argued that the UN on some level played a role in these sexual violence cases having occurred.

Horrors against the most vulnerable of Congolese society continued unabated. The New York Times reported in December 2004 on a 12-year-old girl, Helen, and a 13-year-old girl, Solange, both of whom were raped by UN peacekeepers who lured the girls in using food.[57]

In January 2005, the UN conducted an investigation into the matter, finding that “Congolese women and girls confirmed that sexual contact with peacekeepers occurred with regularity, usually in exchange for food or small sums of money.”[58] Unfortunately, the vast majority of allegations were unable to be substantiated. The Office of Internal Oversight Services complied a total of 20 cases and was able to corroborate only seven cases, as in remaining cases the victims and witnesses weren’t able to positively identify perpetrators.

Shockingly, while this investigation was going on, peacekeepers were still engaging in sexual acts, “evidenced by the presence of freshly used condoms near military camps and guard posts and by the additional allegations of recent cases of solicitations brought to the attention of the OIOS team during the last days of the investigation.”[59]

Out of the report came several recommendations, among them were: to create and implement a prevention program, “establish a rapid-response detection program, utilizing personnel experienced in such cases,” ensuring that UN administrators and officers can demonstrate that current rules and regulations aimed at preventing sexual abuse/exploitation are being enforced, and creating a program to “provide regular briefings for troops on their responsibilities to the local population and on prohibited behaviors”[60] so that everyone, from peacekeepers on up, would be on the same page.

Due to this report, a sexual abuse focal-point element was created for all UN agencies in the Congo, a website was established to educate staff on exactly what constituted sexual abuse/exploitation, and a strict curfew was put in place. In March 2005, the UN Security Council issued a resolution focusing on the Congo, which in part they asked the Secretary General to ensure compliance to the zero tolerance policy on sexual abuse, that perpetrators be investigated and punished.[61]

The UN began looking into the alleged child prostitution ring in August 2006. While many of the patrons were Congolese soldiers, early testimonies from victims revealed that ring leaders became interested in the presence of UN forces and the money they had as a catalyst for creating the ring.[62]

There were further child prostitution ring allegations surround a contingency from India two years later, but the soldiers were found innocent by Indian courts.[63] In another instance of abuse by Indian soldiers, there were allegations that they had fathered nearly 12 children after DNA tests were conducted and showed the children having distinct Indian features. While one soldiers was punished as it was found that his DNA sample matched with one of the children born, others only had administrative action recommended and others still were given a clean slate.[64]

Despite sexual abuse allegations having been on the decline[65], the situation seemed to continue to deteriorate as The Globe and Mail reported that in February 2011, two teenaged orphans were attacked with two Congolese soldiers beating one of the girls, while the other was gang raped and impregnated.[66] The UN soldiers were still out in the field even after the incident.[67]

Overall, there was a complete lack of punishment for soldiers that engaged in abuse and exploitation. The Independent reported in 2007 that nearly 200 peacekeepers had been disciplined in sexual abuse cases since 2004, but not a single one had been prosecuted. In fact, of the 319 people that had been investigated in the 2004-2007 time frame for sexual misconduct, 180 had been either dismissed or sent back to their home countries.[68]

Just for the missions launched in the 1990s, there were cover ups, lies, and even an outright acceptance of blue helmets engaging in abuse. Unfortunately, for the missions that started up in the 2000s, the women and girls of a myriad of nations would be subject to abuse, no more so than in Haiti. 


[1] United Nations, Chapter 1: Purposes and Principles,

[2] Elian Peltier, “U.N. Peacekeepers in Haiti Said to Have Fathered Hundreds of Children,” New York Times, December 18, 2019 (

[3] Kevin Ponniah, “In 1993, the UN tried to bring democracy to Cambodia. Is that dream dead?,” BBC News, July 28, 2018 (

[4] Donna M. Hughes, “Welcome to the Rape Camp: Sexual Exploitation and the Internet in Cambodia,” Journal of Sexual Aggression 6 (Winter 2000), pg 4

[5] Sandra Whitworth, “Gender, Race and the Politics of Peacekeeping,” in Edward Moxon-Browne, editor, A Future in Peacekeeping? (New York, New York: Saint Martin’s Press, 1998), pg 179

[6] Anne Orford, “The Politics of Collective Security,” Michigan Journal of International Law 17:2 (1996), pgs 378-379

[7] Globalization 101, Peacekeeping in Bosnia,

[8] Roy Gutman, “U.N. Forces Accused of Using Serb-run Brothel,” Washington Post, November 2, 1993 (

[9] Ibid

[10] Susan Dewey, Hollow Bodies: Institutional Responses to Sex Trafficking in Armenia, Bosnia, and India (West Harford, CT: Kumarian Press, 2008), pg 101

[11] U.S. Congress, House, Committee on International Relations, Subcommittee on International Relations and Human Rights, The U.N. and the Sex Slave Trade in Bosnia: Isolated Case or Larger Problem in UN System (Washington D.C.: Subcommittee on International Relations and Human Rights, House Committee On International Relations, 2002) (, pg 47

[12] Ibid, pg 8

[13] Ibid, pg 66

[14] Ibid, pg 68

[15] Colum Lynch, “U.N. Halted Probe of Officers' Alleged Role in Sex Trafficking,” Washington Post, December 27, 2001 (

[16] Amnesty International, Kosovo (Serbia & Montenegro) “So does that mean I have rights? (May 6, 2004), pg 7

[17] Ian Traynor, “Westerner troops fuelling Kosovo sex trade,” Irish Times, May 7, 2004 (

[18]Human Rights Watch, Hope Betrayed: Trafficking of Women and Girls to Post-Conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina for Forced Prostitution, (November 26, 2002), pg 46

[19] William Gehrke, “The Mozambique Crisis: A Case for United Nations Military Intervention,” Cornell International Law Journal 24:1 (1991), pg 135

[20] A.B., Fetherson, UN Peacekeepers and Cultures of Violence, Cultural Survival Quarterly Magazine, (May 1995)

[21] United Nations, General Assembly, Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Children, A/51/306, August 26, 1996 (, pg 31

[22] Stanley Meisler, “Prostitution Report Accuses U.N. Troops in Mozambique,” Los Angeles Times, February 26, 1994 (

[23] Ernst Schade, Report On Experiences With Regards to the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces in Mozambique, November 20, 1995, pg 13

[24] Ibid

[25] Ibid, pg 14

[26] Ibid, pg 17

[27] Ibid, pg 20

[28] Ibid, pg 21

[29] Raf Casert, “In Italy, Belgium and Italy, Somalia peacekeeping scandals growing,” Associated Press, June 24, 1997 (

[30] Ingrid Westendorp, M. W. Wolleswinkel, Ria Wolleswinkel, eds., Violence In The Domestic Sphere (Holmes Beach, FL: Gaunt Inc), 2005, pg 15

[31] Ibid

[32] Ibid

[33] Government of Canada, International Force in East Timor (INTERFET),

[34] Ginny Stein, "Allegations against Jordanian peacekeepers," Australian Broadcasting Company, (June 25, 2001)

[35] Mark Dodd, “Hushed Rape of Timor,” The Weekend Australian, March 26, 2005 (,5744,12655192%5E2703,00.html)

[36] Nick McKenzie, "Claim UN officers customers in East Timor sex slave brothels," Australian Broadcasting Company, (July 9, 2003)

[37] Lindsay Murdoch, “UN acts to stamp out sex abuse by staff in East Timor,” The Age, August 30, 2006 (

[38] Sofi Ospina, A Review and Evaluation of Gender-Related Activities of UN Peacekeeping Operations and their Impact on Gender Relations in Timor Leste, PeaceWomen, (July 11, 2006), pg 44

[39] United Nations, Secretary-General’s Bulletin, Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, ST/SGB/2003/13, October 9, 2003 (, pg 2

[40] World Peace Foundation, United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone Brief,

[41] Tim Butcher, “UN troops accused of 'systematic' rape in Sierra Leone,” The Telegraph, January 17, 2003 (

[42] Human Rights Watch, World Report 2003,, pg 70

[43] Global Policy Forum, UN Takes Action Against Peacekeepers’ Misconduct, (March 18, 2002)

[44] United Nations Human Rights Council, Save The Children-United Kingdom, Sexual Violence & Exploitation: The Experience of Refugee Children in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, (February 2002), pg 6

[45] Ibid

[46] Ibid, pg 7

[47] United Nations, General Assembly, Investigation into sexual exploitation of refugees by aid workers in West Africa, A/57/465, October 11, 2002 (, pg 16

[48] Ibid

[49] Human Rights Watch, We’ll Kill You If You Cry: Sexual Violence in the Sierra Leone Conflict, (January 2003), pg 48

[50] Ibid, pg 49

[51] Ibid, pg 4

[52] Michael Fleshman, Tough UN Line on Peacekeeper Abuses, United Nations, (April 2005)

[53] United Nations, United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,

[54] Human Rights Watch, The War within the War: Sexual Violence against Women and Girls in Eastern Congo, (June 2002), pg 95

[55] Children & Armed Conflict: Impact, Protection, and Rehabilitation Research Project, Abuse by UN Troops In D.R.C. May Go Unpunished, Report Says, (July 12, 2004)

[56] Kate Holt, Sarah Hughes, “Will Congo's women ever have justice?” The Independent, July 12, 2004 (

[57] Marc Lacey, In Congo War, Even Peacekeepers Add to Horror,” New York Times, December 18, 2004 (

[58] United Nations, General Assembly, Investigation by the Office of Internal Oversight Services into allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse in the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, A/59/661, January 5, 2005 (, pg 1

[59] Ibid, pg 11

[60] Ibid, pgs 12-13

[61] Susan A. Notar, “Peacekeepers as Perpetrators: Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Women and Children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,” Journal of Gender, Social Policy, and the Law 14:2 (2006), pg 420

[62] United Nations News, UN investigates allegations of child prostitution involving peacekeepers in DR Congo, (August 17, 2006)

[63] Kwame Akonor, UN Peacekeeping in Africa: A Critical Examination and Recommendations for Improvements (New York, NY: Springer, 2017), pg 39

[64] Gautam Datt, “Indian army's shame: Indictment of 4 Indian peacekeepers for 'sexual misconduct' on a UN posting in Congo dents the army's honor,” India Today, November 5, 2012 (

[65] UN News, Sexual abuse allegations decline against UN peacekeepers in DR Congo and Liberia,, July 27, 2011

[66] Gerald Caplan, “Peacekeepers gone wild: How much more abuse will the UN ignore in Congo?” The Globe and Mail, August 3, 2012 (

[67] Matthew Russell Lee, On UN Report of Peacekeeper Rape in Congo, Ladsous' DPKO Says Nothing, Inner City Press, (August 7, 2012)

[68] Ruth Elkins, Francis Elliot, “UN Shame Over Sex Scandal,” The Independent, January 7, 2007 (